Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 11 minutes, Director – David Fincher
Alcoholic screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) finds himself bedbound with 60 days to write a screenplay for Orson Welles (Tom Burke), which would go on to become Citizen Kane.
“He likes the way you talk, not the way you write, the way you talk!” Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) finds himself being shouted at late in David Fincher’s Hollywood throwback Mank. He’s a charismatic screenwriter jumping through the studio system of the 30’s and 40’s with a wry wit. Fincher’s film, written by his late-father Jack Fincher, is about words and the relationships and reputations that they can form or destroy. Through elections, scripts and disagreements with studio executives there’s a lot to unpack within Mank.
The core of the film sees a bedbound Herman – with a broken leg as a result of a car accident – with 60 days to write a screenplay for a 24 year old Orson Welles (Tom Burke), who has just been given free reign over a motion picture project of his creation by RKO Pictures. A film that would turn out to be Citizen Kane. Oldman’s drunken writer dictates his screenplay to Lily Collins’ Rita Alexander as his past, which inspires much of what would become what many regard as the greatest film ever made. The narrative taking a form much like Kane in that it jumps back and forth to flashbacks and back – typewriter text spelling out when and where we are at each point. While becoming a part of the heap of bedsheets he’s a part of a sea of partially crumpled paper surrounds the central figure as gradually realises that he’s writing something more like an opera than a standard feature film.
While perhaps a bit too long, and certainly rather jumpy with its flashes back and forth in time, there’s plenty to like about the detail of this piece. No expense has been spared on creating an authentic look and feel – even a black dot appears in the corner at the end of some scenes as is the case with a number of old prints of films when the reel had to be changed. However, it’s Oldman’s fantastic central performance that acts as the biggest connection to the viewer. Oldman initially suggested to Fincher that he should wear heavy make-up to make himself look more like Mankiewicz, however Fincher decided against this in the hope of showing a more personal, human story – allowing for a greater connection with the protagonist. Thanks not only to Oldman’s brilliant lead performance but by those of the supporting cast too – including the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance and Tuppence Middleton, all capturing the flair and feel of the workings of a classic Hollywood studio system.
As Mank clashes with the studio executives of MGM and Paramount, and battles with Welles and John Houseman (Sam Troughton) about his screenplay. While feeling a bit long around the 100 minutes mark there’s enough in the detail to enjoy – especially within the performances – within this ode to classic Hollywood, even if a number of elements aren’t quite shown in a good light, and perhaps a personal one from a son honouring the work of his father – this has been in the works in some form or another since the late-90’s. Yet, even with the grand style and feel of the piece – all finely tuned and crafted for the best possible effect – the thing that works the most is the way that the film uses language. Whether for argument, reason, humour or persuasion the clever use of words is impressive. Some moments may be more entertaining than others, particularly punchier walking-talking scenes – backed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ fantastic score – but there’s certainly enough coming through David Fincher’s vision to make this a large-scale tale of classic Hollywood filled with the ins and outs of the studio system that all led to Citizen Kane.
While its jumpy nature pushes the feeling of the run-time, Mank delights in the words of its screenplay. Brought to life by an array of great performances, especially Oldman – likely to be in Oscar contention – this is a (if sometimes overly-) detailed piece that takes delight in the world of classic Hollywood.